Showing posts with label Black History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black History. Show all posts

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Troubled Time

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. — Leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.
From 1955 to 1965 there was a war right in the middle of America.  No, it wasn’t a war like World War II or the Revolutionary War.  It was a war for the heart and soul of this country to determine once and for all if America was really going to be a land of equal opportunity for all.   It is a war that eventually took on the name of “The Civil Rights Movement.”

We must make no mistake, this was not just a shouting match.  Some of the events that we even remember today became quite brutal and deadly.  Those who fought in this war on both sides were deadly serious about the causes they represented and willing to fight and even die to see their cause succeed.  The war waged for years and steady progress was made but not without tremendous sacrifice by the leaders of the movement who were committed to a giving a new meaning to the phrase “set my people free.”

In all of black history, there may be no more significant a time since the Civil War when the rights of African Americans were so deeply fought and won.  The tensions in the country had been building.  When the Supreme Court mandated desegregation in the schools in the historic case Brown versus the Board of Education, the stage was set.  But it was on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white man that the movement finally took shape and became a titanic struggle for the rights of African Americans in America.  That first battle brought to the front line one of the most important figures to fight for Civil Rights of that era, the Reverend Martin Luther King.

This tremendous struggle for freedom was never easy and was often marked with violence.  Over the next ten years, some of the most important milestones in black history took place including…

* 1957 – President Eisenhower had to send federal troops to Arkansas to secure admission to Central High School by nine black students.

* 1960 – The sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina set the stage for a nonviolent protest that was used with great success for the rest of the struggle.  Nonviolent protest and civil disobedience became a staple of the civil rights movement because of the influence of Martin Luther King.

* 1963 – The historic March on Washington in which over 200,000 people gathered to hear Dr. Kings famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

* 1964 – President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill that was the most significant event of his presidency and one he believed deeply in, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

* 1965 – The assignation of Malcolm X and the Watts race rights.

* 1965 – President Johnson takes another bold step to accelerate the civil rights movement implementing Affirmative Action when he issues Executive Order 11246.

This short list is just a few of the highlights of this troubled time in which the rights of all citizens of American, black and white and of all colors were being redefined both on the streets, in the courts and in the different branches of government.  In the years to come there would be great steps forward.  One by one, every area of American life would see breakthroughs by African Americans in the areas of sports, entertainment, education, and politics.  There were many proud moments and there were moments of tremendous shame and heinous acts committed by both white and black people.  But through all that struggle, the society continued to grow and adapt to the will of the people as has always been the tradition in American culture.



The struggle is far from over.  Discrimination and hate speech continues to be a problem to this day.  And while it is easy to reflect on those days of struggle with regret, we can also look at them with pride.  We can be proud of the great leaders who demonstrated tremendous courage and wisdom to lead this nation to a better way of life.  And we can be proud of America because it is here where such a struggle can result in equality and freedom for all citizens, not just a few.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks - Photo: Wikimedia
In any great movement which effects great change in a nation or a people, there is something called a watershed moment.  A watershed moment is that one signature event that triggered the onslaught of great and historic change.  In American history, that watershed moment might be the Boston Tea Party.  But in the context of black history, particularly when we consider the central role that the civil rights movement has played in black history in this country, there is really just one watershed moment that virtually anybody who understands black history will point to.

That event took place on December 1, 1955, on a simple city bus when a black woman by the name of Rosa Parks got on that bus.  When the bus became crowded, the bus driver ordered Ms. Parks to relinquish her seat to a white man as was the cultural order of things at that time.  But Rosa Parks was not interested in seeing that cultural order of things continue.  She refused to give up that seat.  

The explosion of outrage and social change that was released by that one simple act of civil disobedience is the watershed moment that anyone affected by the civil rights movement points to at the most important event in modern black history.  Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving her seat up that day and the trial for that act of civil disobedience brought to the national spotlight another important leader in the civil rights movement by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

This one event began to escalate and gather energy in the black community.  It was an exciting and somewhat frightening time as the black community was energized and began to organize around these two courageous leaders and the result was the most powerful civil rights protests in the history of the movement occurred which came to be known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

There are many reasons why such a simple event has had such a powerful effect on a people such as it did on the black community of the fifties.  Clearly, the frustration and gathering power of a movement was already building in the black community.  A situation like this can best be described as a tinderbox that is just waiting for a spark for it to explode into fire.  When that simple black woman finally decided that she was no longer going to live in servitude to the white man and she put her foot down and said NO, that was the spark that set the civil rights movement in motion.

Rosa Parks was not a trained instigator or a skilled manipulator of groups.  Because she was just a citizen and a simple woman with simple daily needs, that itself was a powerful statement that this was the time for the community to take action and effect change.  She was not even looking to start a nation changing civil rights movement when she refused to give up her bus seat.  As she said later in an interview about the event…



"I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama.”  And then in her autobiography, My Story she elaborated that…  “People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true.  I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.  I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then.  I was forty-two.  No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Rosa Parks won the right to be treated as a human being for herself and for her people across America and even around the world with her simple act of civil disobedience.  She is an inspiration to us all that we too must demand the right of simple human dignity for all people who are citizens of this great land.  And the story of Rosa Park’s defiance shows that if we demand that, it will be won.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Rainbow Coalition

Rainbow-PUSH_Headquarters - Photo: Wikimedia
The struggle for freedom and equality for African Americans is one that is passed down from generation to generation and from one era of black leadership to the next.  Throughout history, the African American leadership has had many outstanding men and women who made their mark and made a difference for black people in America.  And that tradition continues to this day with modern black leadership such as Barrack Obama, The Reverend Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.

Jessie Jackson has organized his efforts to continue the struggle for civil rights in one of the most innovative organizations in history that came to be known as the Rainbow Coalition.  This organization represented the dreams and goals of the Reverend Jackson, to be sure.  But it also represents the shared efforts of black Americans across the country in modern times to keep the dream of Martin Luther King alive and moving forward.

In fact, the Rainbow Coalition was the outcome of a series of efforts and movements that began with a relationship between Reverend Jackson and Dr. King.  It was Martin Luther King that asked Jessie Jackson to head up a movement called Operation Breadbasket, a project to seek the economic improvement of black communities across the country, particularly in the inner city.  Operation Breadbasket eventually evolved into a powerful civil rights organization known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

As these movements started to make a real difference in the lives of African Americans in America, another step was the development of Operation PUSH which stood for People United to Save Humanity.  This influential organization has become the cornerstone for promoting civil rights and social justice for African Americans in the last twenty years. 

It was from these different initiatives and the success they were realizing that the Rainbow Coalition was birthed to seek economic opportunity in the business community and to encourage Fortune 500 companies to hire minorities and to expand their involvement in the nurture and the development of the black community for the good of all peoples.

The naming of the movement “The Rainbow Coalition” is pivotal to the vision Reverend Jackson had for the civil rights movement.  He did not see it as just black people working for the betterment of the black community.  Instead, inspired by Martin Luther King’s dream of equality and brotherhood of all races, the coalition would truly be a partnership of all minorities, the white community and other equal rights movements to seek equal opportunity for all of America’s citizens.  

The important stance that The Rainbow Coalition brought to the consciousness of the black community and to America was the concept that civil rights were not just a black issue.  It emphasized that all of America cannot move forward when a part of the population is left behind to flounder in poverty and without the benefits of a good education and job opportunities.  The result is that the black pride that was built by key figures of black history such as Mohammed Ali, Spike Lee and even more radical elements such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers could now be used to promote true equality in the society.  In doing so, Jackson and other contemporary black leaders taught that the African American community not only could be but must insist on being fully black and fully American in their status in American culture.



Finally, the Rainbow Coalition emphasized that civil rights is not just a political issue.  The emphasis was on all aspects of American life including economic equality, social opportunity and even equal representation in the media and entertainment arts.  To be truly represented as an important part of American culture, black Americans must have equal opportunities in all venues.  

This is the message for its time that Reverend Jackson and the Rainbow coalition has brought and continues to bring to the national stage.  And it’s an important message that takes the good that was done in past civil rights movements in this country and brings up to date with a new century.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Harlem Renaissance

320
Lois Jones, artist and teacher - Photo: Wikimedia
The quest for equality and freedom for African Americans has been fought on many fronts.  But there is no question that in the area of the arts, the contribution of black America has been so profound that it has greatly eased racial tensions and changed the image of black culture profoundly in the eyes of all Americans.  Many have criticized the world of such black performers as Richard Prior, Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy but these artists along with artists in literature, painting, poetry, music and all the arts have brought an acceptance of black culture that has furthered the appreciation of African Americans by all people more than anything else ever could do.

In the history of black culture, the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s was a time when African American culture truly was showcased for the country, indeed the world and people started to realize the rich legacy that was available to all peoples in black culture.  The Harlem Renaissance was more than just a greater exposure to black dance, music, comedy or theatre even though the chance for all peoples to appreciate the talents of black artists was certainly worthwhile in its own right.  

But the Harlem Renaissance also refers to the cultural and social movements of the time in which black pride was beginning to cause big changes in the way African Americans thought about themselves and eventually how all Americans thought of black Americans as well.  A lot of factors led to the explosion of black culture during that time frame, especially in New York City.  The city had been a Mecca for artists of every culture for a long time as it still is today.  And during this time frame, there was a migration of the African American population to the north and to the urban industrial areas particularly to take advantage of the economic opportunities there.

With the migration of the African American population came the rich black music that had continued to grow and evolve ever since the Civil War.  But because of the concentration of cultures in New York and the willingness to experiment, to blend and to discover new cultures that was the norm in that melting pot city, white America too began to discover the jazz,  blues, spirituals and gospel music that began to evolve and integrate into many secular musical styles of the time.



The era was in every way a renaissance just as much as the great cultural renaissance in Europe had been many years before it.  In every genre, black culture exploded onto the national consciousness.  Many outstanding, stand-out names that became household names in literature and the arts came into their own during the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton.  

There is no question that the cultural explosion that occurred during that brief time frame created a tidal wave of change that is still being felt today.  The blending of blues, gospel and spirituals, when it began to see experimentation by the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard spawned an even bigger cultural event known as rock and roll music that changed the world forever.  And to this day many of the mannerisms, the approach to style and speech that came to be known as “being cool” was, in reality, an attempt, especially by youth, to emulate black culture.  And by imitation cultures began to merge and blend to where they could never live separately again.  And that blending and enjoyment of black culture have done much to help integrate society and make social change and acceptance of each other’s cultures by black and white a possibility today.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

SLAVERY

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...
Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Original caption: "Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Not everything that has to make a mark on the history of African American people is on the surface a positive thing.  But we know that there some very terrible things that happened to the black population in America that are undeniably a big part of the history of a people.  So any survey of black history could not be complete without a discussion of slavery.

Few peoples of the earth have such a profoundly humiliating event to become such a central part of their heritage and their past.  Yes, other tribes and races have endured slavery including the American Indian and the ancient Hebrews.  Perhaps slavery is even more pivotal to the psychology of the African American culture because it is the central historical event that launched their start as citizens of this country.

It was not a citizenship born in nobility and honor as many others can point to in America.  No to come to America as slaves is to have come to America with little more value to their fellow Americans than common livestock.  And to be sure, the lives of slaves in the first decades of American history were very harsh times.  Slaves were abused and denied anything that we might call today even basic human rights.  

It is hard to gain any perspective on such a heinous crime against humanity as slavery except to put in context that this barbaric practice did not originate in America but came to our shores as part of the background of many people including the Dutch, the French and the English.  

In some ways slavery was an evolution of the system of indentured servant hood in which an immigrant trades a certain number of years of service to a master in exchange for payment for their travel costs to come to America.  But in the case of Africans who were brought on ships as slaves, there was no desire to come in chains to serve as property until death.  

A drawing of slaves, made by whites, 2 generat...
A drawing of slaves, made by whites, 2 generations after the end of slavery. 

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The impossibility of hope in that situation is almost impossible for any of us, black or white, in modern day America to grasp or appreciate.  But the efforts of slaves to free themselves and indeed to eventually do so using the Underground Railroad or other means is a testament to human will and that hope is something that is extremely hard to crush out in the human heart.

Has anything good come out of the legacy of slavery in this country?  Well, a bond that was formed in the hearts of a people was permanently cemented during those horrible years.  The music that the slaves used to keep their spirits alive has been passed to us as a rich legacy of spirituals that we cherish because they were born under inhuman suffering.   

One thing that was a permanent out come of slavery in the African American community was the sense of resolve to never go back to such a time and a fight that was burned deep into the soul of a people to fight no matter how long or how hard to gain the civil rights of full citizens in this country.  This would not have happened so profoundly had the peoples who came here and were identified solely by skin color not have endured slavery together.  Before the various peoples who became slaves were pressed into service, they were from many tribes and many people all across Africa and beyond.  Their nationalities were tribal and they had the normal pride of a people, customs, family relationships and history that any people will have.  That all was ripped away when they were taken into slavery.

But in the void left by those crucial relationships, a new brotherhood of African Americans was born.  And the pride that has risen up in this new nation is strong and has continued to build throughout the decades.  It is built on proud history and proud leadership.  There has been much struggle and more difficulties and everything is not perfect by any measure.  But the African American people can be proud of how far the culture has come and use that pride to press on toward greater accomplishments in the future.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

AFFIRMATION ACTION

John F. Kennedy addresses nation on Civil Rights
John F. Kennedy addresses nation on Civil Rights
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The history of the growth of equality for African Americans in America has been one of great accomplishments followed by many small gains and many set backs as well.  The outlawing of slavery did not instantly make all blacks equal with whites in America.  It took many subsequent legal actions as well as hundreds of social efforts, big and small, to slowly make the progress we have seen today.  But even in this day and age, in a new century, there is an ongoing battle against racism.  It seems we need leadership to guide society to true equality as much now as ever in our history.

The abolition of slavery only began the long hard struggle for African American culture to become a true part of what it means to be an American.  That is because even though the legal definition of slavery had been thrown down, the attitudes and cultural systems in place to keep the races separate and to deny black people rights equal with whites had to be addressed one by one.

Slowly over the decades, we have seen big changes but many came at a great cost.  From the legal granting of the right to vote to African Americans to the civil rights movement to school desegregation, each step forward came with resistance, great difficulty and significant sacrifice from leaders and ordinary citizens alike to make each step toward true equality a fact.

Of all the efforts to “level the playing field”, none has been more controversial than the Affirmative Action program.  In its beginning, it was intended to be a supplement to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Over time it had become clear that despite removal of laws that enforced segregation or discrimination, there seemed to be a natural segregation in the work place that was keeping African Americans from getting a fair chance at jobs because of the prejudices of an employer, even if that prejudice was not officially recognized in the company charter.

There were two significant executive orders that made affirmative action a reality.  The first was Executive Order 10925 signed by President Kennedy on March 6, 1965 which was the first law to make mention of the phrase.  This was followed by much more sweeping Civil Rights Act which was signed into law by President Johnson.  Together these laws attempted to correct by legal means the disparity of opportunity that existed in the workplace for people of color by instituting a system of quotas that employers had to meet to satisfy federal affirmative action minority employment levels.

But as is often the case when the government attempts to impose right attitudes via legislation, these laws often created as many problems for minorities as they cured.  Nevertheless as the application of the quota systems began to become widespread, it did open many doors for African Americans that would not have opened due to racial prejudice and silent segregation that was keeping the African American community from reaching its economic potential.

In truth, nobody really liked this kind of imposed fairness system.  For whites, they felt the sting of an artificial system of judgment that was sometimes called “reverse discrimination”.  While there was some justice that the white community got a taste for what it felt like to loose out on opportunity due to the color of your skin, it did not help the country in our goal of growing together to become one “color blind” community.


Affirmative action was a mixed blessing for the African American community.  While it did its job in the short term to opening doors that were closed due to racism, it is not the ideal solution.  That is because it did not fulfill Dr. King’s vision of a world where a man is judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.  We can hope that we will grow to that point as a culture and look back on affirmative action as an unfortunate but necessary provision to help us grow and mature as a truly integrated culture.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Thirteenth AMENDMENT

Looking back on it now, it’s almost amazing to any modern American that we ever needed something like The Thirteenth Amendment.  The very fact that the United States government had to take this step to outlaw slavery in this country once and for all tells us that the more liberated way we think in modern times was not always the way life was viewed just a few hundred years ago.  In light of the long uphill struggle black history in this country represents, it is worthwhile to look back at this simple but powerful amendment which simply states…

English: 13th Amendment of the nited States Co...
13th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

This amendment to the constitution of the United States, along with the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments represent the most dramatic changes to the fundamental law of this land in regards to civil rights in American history.  And it took strong and courageous leadership by Abraham Lincoln to assure that these provisions were so imbedded into the core definition of what America was and is that there would never be a chance that slavery would rise again inside our borders.

The date to remember of the passage of this history Amendment is April 8, 1864.  It was the end of the civil war and the south lay in defeat, still separated from the north before reconstruction could begin the long task of making this nation one again.  The wisdom President Lincoln had to take action while the sounds of battle were still fresh in the ears of all Americans to set in stone the achievements of this bloody war cannot be overlooked.

Up until the Civil War, slavery was a common part of American life.  It is painful for all Americans, black and white, to look back on a time when most Americans considered it normal for one human being to own another.  While the many great strides for civil rights and equality in the decades to come would stand tall in black history, this very basic restoration of the right of African Americans to be treated as humans had to be a fundamental start to becoming full citizens of this great land.

And so with the guns of the Civil War just recently silenced by the North’s victory, President Lincoln moved swiftly to make slavery a thing of the past forever.  First, in 1863, he issued The Emancipation Proclamation stating in no uncertain terms that…

“all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

But despite the power of this proclamation, Lincoln knew that The Constitution had to be amended to make the good intent of the Emancipation Proclamation the irrevocable law of the land.  And so he championed The Thirteen Amendment through congress to assure that it was made law and that slavery could never again become a common and accepted part of American life.



It was an important start.  But we all know that true freedom was still had many more battles ahead of it.  When slave owners around the country, released their slaves, African Americans everywhere knew a freedom they had only dreamed of before.  But it was just one step in a long uphill struggle for equality and freedom that continues on to this day. 

Let us all look back on President Lincoln’s vision, forward thinking and courage and let it inspire similar vision and courage in us to find ways to make American society free and equal for all citizens, black, white and for all races, creeds and colors.  If we can achieve that, then we have done our part to join President Lincoln in seeking freedom for all men.


Monday, March 7, 2016

The Triumph at the BERLIN OLYMPICS 1936

There have been many truly memorable moments in black history where the blatant wrongness of racial discrimination has been dramatically put on display.  The 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany may be one of the most dramatic because of what the madman wanted to happen and what really happened.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R96374, Berlin, Olympiad...
Jesse Owens  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hitler was pleased to host the Olympics because he felt it was a chance to put on display one of his core philosophical concepts which was the superiority of the Aryan race.  Or to put it more bluntly, Hitler wanted to show the superiority of the white man on the Olympic fields.  Looking back on his arrogance, and knowing what we do today, you wonder how he could have been so deeply wrong about something.  But if he had never questioned that theory, he should have given it serious review after the Berlin Olympics.

Once again, it was a man whose name in black history has become one of great pride that turned the day for justice and equality.  That man was Jessie Owens who came to those Olympics not to make a racial statement or start a movement but to do his best and show his pride as a black man, as an American and as an athlete.  And that pride shown through as he won four gold metals and turned Hitler’s hopes for an Aryan romp over the black man to dust.

Hitler’s response was infantile and nauseating storming out of the stadium as Owens won event after event and then refusing to shake Jessie’s hand when the time to award the metals came.  But there is another side to this story that sheds another light on where we were in black history at that time.  And that was the experience Jesse Owens had in Germany from the other athletes and from the German citizens who were warm and welcoming to him and treated him as the athletic hero he was as a result of his great accomplishments.

History tells us that during the long jump competition, Jesse’s German competitor Lutz Long gave him advice and was friendly throughout the competition.  As he continued to put on display his remarkable athletic ability, the German citizens, some 110,000 strong cheered him enthusiastically and eagerly asked him for his autograph when he was on the streets after the competition.  In fact, Owens enjoyed equality that is common among athletes as he traveled with his fellow white athletes, ate with them and stayed in the same living accommodations with them, something that would have been out of the question in America at the time.

There are many lessons we can gather from Jesse’s experience beyond that obvious that Hitler’s ideas of Aryan supremacy were deeply wrong and offensive to all mankind, not just to the victims of discrimination.  We see that even in a society that has become characterized as racist, such as Germany in the 1930’s, the people, the common everyday folk of Germany had no room in their hearts for such racism that was being pushed upon them by their leadership.  This can be a source of inspiration and hope for all of us and an encouragement not to prejudge a people who we might even perceive as being racists because many times the good people, the common everyday people will have nothing to do with such evil.



And we can celebrate this great victory in a very difficult circumstance in which it wasn’t speeches that proved that race or color or creed don’t make a man superior.  Instead it is the talent, the integrity and the hard work of each individual that shows the quality that is from within.  Jesse Owens demonstrated that even to the likes of Adolph Hitler.  And we have that opportunity to demonstrate that same principle every day in our daily lives.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

The UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

Sometimes when a people are under their most oppression, that is when they truly are at their best it seems.  And that adage could certainly be applied to those who operated the Underground Railroad in the 19th century while slavery was still the law of the land in America.

English: Routes for escaping slaves through we...
Routes for escaping slaves through western
(West) Virginia on the Underground Railroad
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)

The Underground Railroad was a means by which literally tens of thousands of slaves were able to escape their oppressors and make their way north to free states and a chance for freedom.  It was so secretive that even to speak of it meant discovery and terrible punishment.  But worse that that if it had been discovered by those who would stop slaves from finding their way out, it would have meant the end of hope for thousands of African Americans who were enduring the injustice of slavery.

The term "The Underground Railroad" was itself a code because that actual mechanism for moving slaves to freedom was not a railroad at all.  It was a series of stops, connected by obscure routes that wound their way through the countryside.  The routes were twisted and illogical so those seeking to catch slaves and return them to bondage would be hard pressed to figure out the ways those seeking freedom might travel.

English: Whole map of the underground railroad...
Whole map of the underground railroad
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)

There was no published route for the Underground Railroad.  "Passengers" made their way from safe house to safe house taking refuge in homes, churches and other out of the way locations that became known as "stations" to those in the know.  Very often, the people who ran the stations along the path had no idea how long the railroad was or anything about the whole route.  They simply knew enough to receive their "passengers", do all they could for their health and care and send them along with instructions on how to reach the next station.

The routes were treacherous and difficult.  Slaves trying to reach freedom usually walked the routes from station to station to avoid public gathering places where slave chasers might find them and send them back to their owners in the south.  And just as there was no real "railroad" to the Underground Railroad, the routes themselves were not actually under the ground.  However many times at the safe houses, the owners will secure their guests in tunnels under the house or under a farm building.  

At one such safe house in Nebraska City, Nebraska, there is a tunnel from the house to the barn so that if the farmer was feeding a needy family, they could quickly "disappear" if slave hunters arrived without notice.  There were also roughly dug out bedrooms and crude accommodations under those houses to provide as much comfort and opportunities to rest and recover as was humanly possible under such difficult conditions.

We cannot leave our consideration of this phenomenal network without recognizing the courage of those who ran the "stations" to take in slaves, harbor them, feed them and care for their needs and help them along the way to try to do what they could to strike back at this inhuman practice of human slavery.  It is a testimony to humanity that people would overcome their prejudices and reach out to strangers, putting their own homes and families at risk to help a downtrodden people in their time of great need.



And we must take a solemn moment and look back on a dark time in American and Black history when such measures were necessary.  But the Underground Railroad spoke loudly that real Americans would not sit idly by and watch their fellow man suffer unjustly.  There is no doubt that tens of thousands of lives were saved by these anonymous heroes who didn't do it for reward or recognition.  They did it because it was the right thing to do and the thing God would expect them to do.  It is an inspiration to us all in this day to lay down our own prejudices and bond together as brothers to resist prejudice, bigotry and mans cruelty to man because of these evils.  If we do that we will know in our hearts, like those slaves on the railroad and the station owners knew, that there would come a better day.


Friday, January 22, 2016

THURGOOD MARSHALL

Photographic portrait of Thurgood Marshall tak...
Thurgood Marshall,
1936 at the beginning of his work with NAACP
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)
In the long history of uphill struggle for blacks in America, there are many notable firsts.  In addition black history is populated with some truly notable black heroes who made significant contributions to the prosperity of African Americans and the kind of change that brings about full citizenship and acceptance for African Americans at every tier of society.  One such American hero was Thurgood Marshall.

The bare facts of the rise of this black leader don’t say enough about the tremendous influence his work did to improve race relations in this country.  Thurgood was the great grandson of a slave and his father did well to educate the boy in the value of education and of the law in modern society.  His brilliant school career which culminated in graduating Magnum Cum Laud from Howard University was the launch of just a brilliant legal career.  

Throughout his time as a lawyer, Marshall’s success in arguing anti segregation and discrimination cases was phenomenal.  As chief council for the NAACP, Marshall argued before the Supreme Court 29 times, winning each case he took on.  Later when he served in the circuit court, he made 112 rulings that were all fully upheld by the Supreme Court.

But there can be no more phenomenal moment in the life of Thurgood Marshall or in black history itself as when in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.  This appointment represented a long uphill climb to see African American leaders take on significant roles of influence in the local, state and federal governments throughout America.  For all of the violent social protests and struggles “on the streets” in the sixties and seventies lead by notable black leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, it can be argued that the lasting influence Thurgood Marshall in his time on the Supreme Court made just as much impact to improve the lives of black Americans as any other leader of his time.

When you look at the time frame that Thurgood Marshall demonstrated his leadership at a national level, this was a watershed time period in which he made great strides to take this country from one still being affected by the attitudes and social systems of slavery and a past full of discrimination to a society on a clear path to become a truly integrated society of the future.  

There can really be no greater single accomplishment that Thurgood Marshall made than his victory in the Brown versus the Board of Education case.  It was the success in the case that effectively brought school segregation to a halt once and for all in America.  While there was still work to be done to make that legal reality one that was part of the lives of all Americans, Thurgood Marshall opened the door for all African Americans to find the same level of high educational excellence that he role modeled for black youth of his day.  In doing so, the economic standard of living and educational level of black America rose significantly throughout his time on the bench giving rise to the first black middle class that only added to the movement of the integration of society across all tiers and situations.  



It is for these many good reasons that we would include Thurgood Marshall among the truly great heroes of black history of the last one hundred years.  His contribution to the court and the changes in the legal status of Blacks and all minorities and underprivileged people in this country has made America a better place to live for all.  He has set a standard for future black leadership and indeed for all of us to live up to the best of our values to see to it that equality and justice for all persons in our society continues to be the rule of law in this country for a long time to come.